The Greatest Jazz Films Ever Features Classic Performances by Miles, Dizzy, Bird, Billie & More

Though both have their roots in the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, jazz and cin­e­ma came of age as 20th cen­tu­ry art forms, and they very often did so togeth­er (though not always in the most taste­ful ways). Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer intro­duced the world to talkies. Cabaret, Lady Sings the Blues, The Cot­ton Club are all well-known fic­tion­al films that near­ly any­one might name if asked about the sub­ject. And though Ken Burns’ Jazz may seem like a defin­i­tive state­ment in jazz doc­u­men­tary, for decades, film­mak­ers have made jazz musi­cians their cen­tral sub­ject—for exam­ple, in jazz fan-favorites like Min­gus and Thelo­nious Monk: Straight No Chas­er. Before these excel­lent, if some­times painful, por­traits, there were short films like Life mag­a­zine pho­tog­ra­ph­er Gjon Mili’s 1944 Jam­min’ the Blues with Lester Young and oth­er bop stal­warts, and 1950’s Jazz at the Phil­har­mon­ic, a selec­tion of clips fea­tur­ing Cole­man Hawkins, Char­lie Park­er, Lester Young, Bud­dy Rich, Ella Fitzger­ald, and oth­ers per­form­ing at Nor­man Granz’s leg­endary series of con­certs.

You’ll see excerpts from both Jam­min’ the Blues and Jazz at the Phil­har­mon­ic above in The Great­est Jazz Films Ever, a two-disc DVD set that appears to be out of print. (New copies cur­rent­ly retail on Ama­zon for any­where from $259.00 to almost $4,000, but you can watch it free online.) This great­est hits col­lec­tion also includes high­lights from sev­er­al tele­vi­sion spe­cials like Be Bop’s Nest—a rare Char­lie Park­er appear­ance with Dizzy Gille­spie on the short-lived vari­ety show Stage Entrance—and “The Sound of Miles Davis,” a 1959 episode of tele­vi­sion show The Robert Her­ridge The­ater that show­cased one of Davis’ most cel­e­brat­ed ensem­bles.

You’ll also see excerpts from The Sound of Jazz, which Fresh Sound Records calls “one of the great glo­ri­ous moments on tele­vi­sion,” and which con­tains per­for­mances from Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Lester Young, Thelo­nious Monk, the Count Basie Orches­tra, and more. Final­ly, we get excerpts from a 1959 tele­vi­sion spe­cial called Jazz From Stu­dio 61, fea­tur­ing the orig­i­nal Ahmad Jamal Trio with the Ben Web­ster Quin­tet. The Great­est Jazz Films Ever is an impres­sive and endur­ing col­lec­tion of doc­u­ments from the gold­en age of jazz. While the empha­sis here is gen­er­al­ly on musi­cian­ship, not film­mak­ing, it’s a col­lec­tion that also demon­strates jazz’s close rela­tion­ship to film and tele­vi­sion in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry. All­mu­sic has a com­plete track­list of the col­lec­tion. And for a detailed break­down of each clip, you won’t want to pass up a scroll through this help­ful French site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

‘Jam­min’ the Blues,’ by Gjon Mili

‘The Sound of Miles Davis’: Clas­sic 1959 Per­for­mance with John Coltrane

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Leg­end Djan­go Rein­hardt

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • David A. says:

    Tears came to my eyes.….when I saw that some­one elese has the same pas­sion as I do when it comes to pre­serv­ing our Jazz his­to­ry.
    Please stay in con­tact.
    Muse­um of Jazz & Art (a new Mul­ti-Mil­lion dol­lar com­plex in the mak­ing)

  • atom says:

    Some of these per­for­mances blew me away when I saw them online a cou­ple of years ago, so I searched around for this DVD set and locat­ed a com­pa­ny in Europe (I believe in Spain) that had them in stock. I bought sev­er­al sets as gifts for less than $20 each. The discs are for­mat­ted PAL (Euro for­mat) on one side and NTSC(USA for­mat) on the oth­er. You’re wel­come to con­tact them if inter­est­ed at <> Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.